Thursday, February 16, 2012

How Had I Not Seen This Movie!? Part 2: The King of Comedy

The King of Comedy

The King of Comedy is the exact reason why I started doing this series. I had heard little regarding this movie except that it was about a stalker relationship between Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis. I also knew that the few people who did mention it to me, told me I would love it. Unfortunately, it took so long to finally see because when someone repeatedly tells me I need to watch a movie because I'd love it, I gradually decide I never wanted to see that movie. I'd convinced myself that I liked the joy of discovering movies on my own and almost began to resent certain movies based on other people's recommendations. I have no defense for this and have since realized how stupid it is. Moving forward, I clearly have to listen to people's recommendations, especially when they are telling me I need to watch something as perfect as this movie.

The film centers on sad sack Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), who is obsessed with getting a stand-up gig on Jerry Langford's (Jerry Lewis, playing a NYC version of Johnny Carson) variety talk show. We first meet Pupkin as he saves Langford from a deranged fan who somehow gained access to Langford's car as he tries to leave the studio after a show taping. Pupkin then weasels himself into Langford's car, at which point he begins selling his act to Langford, hoping for a chance to have his breakout moment. At first it's unclear just how much of a chump Pupkin is, but it doesn't take long for the film to paint him as an imbalanced man who spends his time in his room (decorated as Langford's set, complete with cardboard cut-outs of Langford and Liza Minnelli) having pretend conversations with Langford. These conversations are shot perfectly, bouncing back and forth between the fantasy world in his head and the real world of Pupkin alone in his room, where the only occasional human contact he has is his faceless mother yelling through the walls for him to quiet down.

While it's a given that De Niro is incredible in this movie, everyone else is surprisingly great as well, including Lewis and also Sandra Bernhardt as fellow obsessed fan (and eventual accomplice) Masha. Jerry Lewis actually surprised me the most in this movie at how well he played Langford. This was the first movie I had ever seen Lewis in and I was impressed at how well he handled his scenes with De Niro. I doubt I'll go and check out his earlier comedies (unless The Day The Clown Cried finally gets unearthed) but it was cool seeing him in this role, especially after only seeing him in my lifetime as the guy who does the telethon, makes gay slurs, and doesn't think women are funny. Speaking of (un)funny women, Bernhardt deserves special credit for playing a delightful psychopath. It was good to see her actually be funny, which is something I've never seen her do on her current gig doing "Sandrology" every Wednesday night on Bravo's Watch What Happens Live.

The comedy in The King of Comedy is pitch black, which is exactly why I loved it so much. Much of the humor stems from the complete sadness that is Pupkin's life. At certain times, it's almost cringeworthy what we are forced to watch him go through, but De Niro is so good in this movie that he is able to ride the line between black comedy and unwatchable torture. In fact, I'm amazed that De Niro isn't given more credit for this role. Sure he's had so many iconic characters, but I truly believe this belongs in his pantheon of greats, right up there with Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta. The scene alone where we finally see Pupkin's actual stand-up routine makes De Niro deserve an multiple awards for this role. The reveal of his routine (and the reaction it gets) had me simply staring at my TV with a giant smile on my face, enjoying what De Niro and Scorsese had just accomplished. How had I not seen this yet?

Valuable Life Lesson Learned: A lot of people may misspell and mispronounce it, but I now know that it's spelled "P-U-P-K-I-N".

You're Welcome,

Upcoming February Titles:
- The Godfather Part 2
- The Thin Man

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